“Ignorance is bliss”
A proverb that means if one is unaware of an unpleasant fact or situation, one can never be troubled by it.
We use plastic products on a large scale and on a daily basis. Some of us, somehow, are still unaware of the problems plastics bring along. The rest of us, just choose to look away, hoping that someone else will take care of the problem. But, at the end of the day, all the problems that come with using plastic, ultimately affect us. We are literally eating, drinking, and breathing plastic.
Because plastic wasn’t invented until the late 19th century, and production really only took off around 1950, we have a mere 9.2 billion tons of the stuff to deal with. Of that, more than 6.9 billion tons have become waste. And of that waste, a staggering 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin—a figure that stunned the scientists.
It’s unclear how long it will take for that plastic to completely biodegrade into its constituent molecules. Estimates range from 450 years to never.
No one really knows how much unrecycled plastic waste ends up in the ocean. Most of the trash ends up in the ocean being dumped carelessly on land or rivers, mostly in Asia. And after that is either blown or washed into the sea.
Talking about marine pollution due to plastic products; the major sources of plastic wastes in our oceans are plastic bags and plastic packaging materials. These particles are large in size and they break down into plastic particles of 5 mm size which are termed as microplastics and thus results in marine microplastic pollution.
Meanwhile, ocean plastic is estimated to kill millions of marine animals every year. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by it. Some are harmed visibly—strangled by abandoned fishing nets or discarded six-pack rings. Many more are probably harmed invisibly.
Marine species of all sizes, from zooplankton to whales, now eat microplastics, the bits smaller than one-fifth of an inch across.
At a global summit in Nairobi last December, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme spoke of an “ocean Armageddon.”
And yet there’s a key difference: Ocean plastic is not as complicated as climate change. There are no ocean trash deniers, at least so far.
To do something about it, we don’t have to remake our planet’s entire energy system.
This isn't a problem where we don't know the solution. We know how to pick up garbage. Anyone can do it. We know how to dispose of it. We know how to recycle. And we should do it before everything turns into a thin soup of plastic.
Although there are various recommended ways of recycling plastic waste, not all waste can be recycled, and also not every country has the capabilities to adapt these techniques. Due to the durability of plastic, it lasts longer taking so much time to degrade, which results in dumping of plastics as land-fill and a portion of it ends up in rivers and eventually, it reaches the oceans.
The use of plastic microbeads in day-to-day products also contributes to marine pollution as when we use them for our personal care they get washed out through drains and eventually end up in the oceans. According to a UN report in 2010, between 5 million to 13 million tons of plastic was found in the oceans which were eventually found inside the stomachs of water bodies.
According to a new study, a quarter of the fish that are sold in the markets contains plastic.
Shocking results came in a study conducted in 2015 in the United States of America when it was found that nearly 8.1 trillion microbeads end up in the oceans every day. But soon after this study companies such as Clarins and Procter & Gamble decided to remove these microbeads from their products. These facts reflect the threat we are under.
But just by merely discussing this problem won’t solve it then “What should we do”, so here are some instances where this problem was rather countered with:
What should we do to keep plastic under control?
Use it to build roads
In July 2016, The Grantham Institute at Imperial College London suggested that managing plastic waste at the source itself is the most effective way of reducing marine pollution. They believed that plastic should not be thrown away as it can be a valuable raw material in various places such as in building roads.
Ban all non-biodegradable
Rwanda launched a Vision 2020 plan under which they banned the use of non-biodegradable polythene bags in 2008. The outcome of this plan was that Rwanda became the world’s first plastic-free nation.
Use recycled plastic for insulation
From an environmental standpoint, recycled insulation materials go a step further, which is 100% made from recycled material. The energy consumption during their production is usually less than in the production of conventional insulation materials, which has a positive effect on their environmental footprint. All of these insulation materials are characterized by their very good insulation properties. Many are cheaper than traditional options.
Use it to build homes
Ten years ago a Colombian Fernando Llanos decided to build his house out of plastic. The innovative local company managed to patent its system of bricks and pillars made of recycled plastic, which is then put together like Lego pieces in a construction system that lets you build houses up to two stories high in five days.
The truth is, recycled plastics do make a difference. Recycling and other alternatives to putting plastics in landfills, such as conservation and composting, have a positive economic impact—these industries create many more jobs than landfills.
The simple act of properly recycling a plastic bottle gives it a new life, preserves resources, and energy, and helps keep our planet healthy.
Yiwu International Trade City, in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang, is the world’s largest wholesale market for small commodities—and a plastic feast for the eyes. More than 70,000 booths, housed in a series of connected buildings, sell everything from inflatable pools to cooking utensils to artificial flowers. To photographer Richard John Seymour, the market felt both utterly familiar, because its goods are found everywhere, and completely foreign, because of the mind-boggling volume.
China is the largest producer of plastic—it accounts for more than a quarter of the global total—much of it exported to the world.
Plastics have transformed all our lives as few other inventions have, mostly for the better. They’ve eased travel into space and revolutionized medicine. They lighten every car and jumbo jet today, saving fuel—and pollution.
In the form of clingy, light-as-air wraps, they extend the life of fresh food. In airbags, incubators, helmets, or simply by delivering clean drinking water to poor people in those now demonized disposable bottles, plastics save lives daily.
The growth of plastic production has far outstripped the ability of waste management to keep up: That’s why the oceans are under assault.
In 2010, according to an estimate, half the world’s mismanaged plastic waste was generated by just five Asian countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka.
Even if all North America and Europe would recycle 100% of their plastics, it would still not make a dent on the plastics released into the oceans.
The most heartening thing about the plastic waste problem is the recent explosion of attention to it. A partial list of the good news since 2014 would include: Kenya joined a growing list of nations that have banned plastic bags, imposing steep fines and jail time on violators. France said it would ban plastic plates and cups by 2020. Bans on plastic microbeads in cosmetics (they’re exfoliants) take effect this year in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and four other countries.
It's really not that complicated. At the end of the day, we just need to collect the trash and stop creating more trash. Start using replacements of plastic and reusable products instead of single-use plastics. And create a worldwide tax on plastic manufactured. With the money raised, we could fundraise garbage collection systems in developing nations.
Ready to start your plastic-free journey?